Songwriters ask unauthorized lyric sites to go legit

It has always been the case that songwriters had to adapt to constant technological advances. But sometimes those advances aren't in the form of new formats or delivery methods, but rather the reemergence of preexisting revenue sources.

One great example of this is lyrics. At a press conference on Monday afternoon, songwriter David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker) said he’s observed in recent years that “searches for lyrics were as popular, if not more popular, than searches for actual mp3s of songs.” National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) President and CEO David Israelite confirmed that song lyrics are increasingly becoming an important revenue source for songwriters.

The press conference was used to announce a new program by the NMPA targeting unlicensed lyric sites. On behalf of major publishers Sony/ATV Music Publishing and Universal Music Publishing, as well as nine indie music publishers, the NMPA put the top 50 unlicensed lyric sites on notice. “You have choices,” said Israelite to the sites. “You can choose to license and be legal, you can choose to shut down, or you can choose to be sued.”

Since 2006, NMPA has gone after hundreds of unlicensed lyric sites, with two sites — LiveUniverse and LyricWiki — resulting in lawsuits, both of which resolved in favor of publishers.

The list of the 50 top sites was arrived at with the help of Lowery, who had assembled it through research at the University of Georgia, where he teaches finance and economics of the music business. Israelite reiterated that NMPA was only going after unlicensed sites that were generating revenue through song lyrics. They were not targeting fan sites, blogs, or other noncommercial sites.

One of the sites at the top of the list was Rap Genius, which recently secured $15 million in investment funding, demonstrating the tremendous commercial value that song lyrics provide.

“Song lyrics are one of the most sought after forms of content on the web today,” explained Israelite, and songwriters want to see legal lyric sites thrive. “The ultimate goal is that songwriters and lyric sites become partners.” That is easier than ever: two services, LyricFind and MusixMatch provide one-stop, aggregate licensing for song lyrics.

Lowery added his perspective as a songwriter, saying “I value the fact that some people are good enough to ask permission of me or my representatives if they can host my lyrics on their site, just as a typical consumer values being asked permission to commercialize their Instagram, for example… permission is the foundation of civilization.”

The press release, including a link to the top 50 infringing lyric sites, can be found at